Billy Vunipola has revealed the reason for his latest injury scare – kicking an Aussie Rules ball.
And the Saracens star, now in South Africa as part of a 34-man England squad, said he initially did not tell his club coaches.
Vunipola has endured an injury ravaged season, with a hamstring problem being the most recent issue, although he made a try-scoring contribution to Saracens’ Premiership final victory over Exeter.
“I trained fully the week before against Wasps (in the play-offs) and I felt really good, but it was my fault,” the powerful number eight said.
“I was doing some AFL kicking and then the hammy went tight before the game.
“I didn’t tell the coaches that, but when I came off at half-time against Wasps I told them. I was like, ‘sorry guys, I was doing AFL kicking’. I stitched myself up there.
“I felt like I was back to normal, and when I feel like I’m back to normal I forget that I was injured and that’s probably why I get injured all the time.
“I had to manage myself a bit better the week after. Now I feel strong again, I had a really good start to the week. Hopefully, next week I will train fully and I will be fine.”
Vunipola has not played Test Rugby since March last year, but he is an integral part of an England group seeking to beat the Springboks in South Africa for the first time since 2000.
England also go into battle in Johannesburg next week on the back of a four-match losing run, having not won since toppling Wales at Twickenham on February 10.
Such a run of results is in stark contrast to the long unbeaten sequence they enjoyed during head coach Eddie Jones’ first 18 games in charge.
But Vunipola added: “It is probably a good thing that we have gone through this tough period because it gives us things we can work on.
“We are almost trying to prove ourselves again, which is probably a better motivator than where do we go from where we were before when we won two Six Nations titles.
“Eddie always drives our constant improvements, and it is better to try and improve when you have lost a few games and it is probably tougher on yourself when you are always winning.
“You probably think you are untouchable, and we are not, and it is a good lesson to learn. Hopefully, we can come together as a team on and off the pitch and really take this tour by the scruff of the neck.”
And Vunipola has no doubt what to expect from a South Africa team now under the coaching direction of former Munster boss Rassie Erasmus.
“We’ve just got to scrap for everything,” he said. “If we’re annoying or making them frustrated, that’s probably the best sign of how up for it we are. It means we are in their faces, otherwise they will just bully us off the park.
“That’s what they used to do really well, and obviously with a new coach coming in they will just go back to how they used to beat other teams: run over them, beat them up, using their big, physical pack to wear you down.
“Hopefully it’s going to be old school, just whose dad is bigger than whose dad. That is the challenge we’ve got ahead of us, and we’ve got to embrace it or we will be on the losing side.”
Eddie Jones was involved in a confrontation with South Africa fans as England fell to a thrilling 42-39 defeat at Ellis Park.
Supporters leaned over the railings and verbally insulted Jones as he walked down the tunnel at the end of the first Test.
The Australian stood his ground for 10 to 15 seconds and engaged with his tormentors before being ushered away by players and staff.
“They (South Africa fans) have always got plenty to say. Especially when they win,” Jones said after the match.
“I was just asking them where I could get a good bottle of Pinotage. I’m still waiting for the answer so if anyone can help me out, please help me out.
“They told me to go find it myself, so I’ll have to go find it myself. That’s what happened, that’s what I asked him.
“When I asked where I can get a nice bottle of Pinotage from, he didn’t respond. I might go back and see him later.
“I wouldn’t worry about that because it was such a great game of rugby. Don’t worry about one little conversation about a bottle of red wine in the tunnel.”
Michael Cheika expects an improved Ireland effort as they look to bounce back from their first defeat in 13 matches in next week’s second Test against Australia in Melbourne.
The Wallabies coach was delighted with his side’s work-rate in their 18-9 win in the series opener in Brisbane, but he warned the players that a backlash is on the way in seven days’ time.
Tries from Bernard Foley and David Pocock were the difference as the home side got their 2018 campaign up and running with an excellent win over the Grand-Slam-winning tourists at Suncorp.
But Ireland will be out to make it one-all in a week’s time and, after Joe Schmidt made changes to his team for the first Test, Cheika is expecting a much-changed and much-improved Ireland effort at AAMI Park.
“They’ve got such a good squad, a lot of depth,” he said.
“If you have a look at the guys who were sitting on their bench tonight and even not in the squad, there’s a number of changes they could make and I imagine that a lot of guys could play in this series.
“They’ve got quality all across the park and that’s being genuine.
“They’re not number two in the world for nothing, they’ve won a stack of games in a row, Six Nations champions with a Grand Slam off the back of it, and you can’t do that without a lot of depth.
“Whichever player plays, every game is going to be a tight game right until the end.”
Cheika felt his team’s ability to match Ireland’s work-rate was key, but he expects a different challenge in Melbourne.
“They’ve got a huge amount of skill and talent, great players as well. But their work rate is the key, it’s the engine behind there and they worked hard tonight too,” he said.
“The Irish system is pretty good, their players are well managed and they came out here really well-drilled.
“That was a tight match, a very tight match, and we know how good they are. We know that it’s going to get harder. They’re getting over arrival, jet lag, they mixed a few of their players, they didn’t start Johnny (Sexton), they didn’t start Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy.
“They’re going to change their look next week and we need to change our look as well because we will all have seen each other.
“That’s the best part about the three-match series concept, where it’s like we’re jousting one week and it’s on another week and we’ve got to change the tactics and keep the same dynamics in there.
“I don’t think they’ll need anything else around that, they’re very capable of lifting it a level next week.”